Why underdogs do better in hockey than basketball


If you were to put sports and games on a continuum,
where the outcomes reflect pure skill on the right side,
and pure luck on the left side, where would the big team sports go? Somewhere in the middle right? But in what order? There’s actually a way to estimate that
using statistics, and this is where they end up. “What you find is the NBA is the sport that’s
farthest away from random, and then you go down the line and hockey is actually the sport
that’s closest to randomness.” Michael Mauboussin did these calculations
for his book, The Success Equation, and his findings remind us what we love so much about
these sports. Mauboussin’s continuum is based on the regular
season for each league. And he found that skill explains less than
half of the season standings for the NHL. But that’s not to say hockey players are
any less skilled. “All these athletes, all these players are
amazing. Amazing. Almost inconceivable how good they are.” The continuum doesn’t tell us how skilled
the players are, it’s more like how well their sport measures their skill. So a big factor is the sample size, or the
number of games in a season. Major league baseball teams play 162 games. Compare that to the NFL, where teams play
only 16 games. The small sample size pushes football toward
the luck side of the continuum, since it’s harder for skill to emerge from the noise
with so few trials. But the number of games doesn’t explain
everything. Both the NHL and the NBA play 82 games in
a season. So their placement has more to do with the
dynamics of the game itself. Like the number of chances teams have to score
during the game– that’s another type of sample size. “Basketball, they’re coming down, and
they have a shot clock and they have to take lots of shots. They’re forced to take shots,
so there’s a lot of samples that go back and forth. Ice hockey of course is much more fluid, possessions
are much less discrete.” They don’t even have a way to measure possessions
in hockey, which gives you a sense of how little sustained control those players have. The number of players matters too. Tennis is a sport where skill plays a much
bigger role, in large part because there simply aren’t many people involved. That’s why Serena Williams could hold the
number one rank for 186 consecutive weeks from 2013 to 2016. When skill dominates, outcomes are more predictable. In a sport like swimming or sprinting, the
activities are even more individual. Essentially racing a clock. There’s nothing standing between the athlete’s
skill and their ranking. But in team sports you have more players and
lots of interactions. And what matters isn’t just how many are
on the field at a time, but how possession is distributed
among a team’s players over the course of the game. Baseball requires the nine hitters on a team
to take turns at bat. “Ideal would be, wouldn’t it be awesome
if our best hitter hit every time? And our weaker players never play at all. In basketball, in a sense, you can do a little
bit of that. I mean, not quite, but you can have LeBron
James playing most of the game, whereas the very best hockey player, Sidney Crosby, is
going to be on the ice 22, 23 minutes per game. He’s their superstar. Hockey is inherently really fast and erratic,
so even the best players need to rest, putting some limits on how much their skill can influence
the results. Whereas in football you have the quarterback
involved in every offensive play. “I think football does boil down to a few
skilled players, typically. And I would say probably the quarterback – head
coach combination becomes the most important determinant or predictor of success.” And then you have the question of the talent
pool. Basketball inherently rewards unusually tall
players. This chart shows the height and weight of
different positions in different leagues. These are NBA players, and here’s the height
of the average American man. “So what happens is you shrink your sample
size, in anything, a small sample size, you get a lot of variance. So saying that differently, there are 7-ft
players that are really skillful, and there are 7 foot players that are not quite as skillful,
and they’re both in the NBA by virtue of their height. As a consequence you get more variance
and so skill tends to assert itself more.” Soccer and hockey don’t require such an
outlier body type, so you’d expect less variance in player skill. And that leaves more to luck. To understand what that means, you have to
see how Mauboussin calculated all this. “I learned this, by the way, from the sports
analytics guys, so I wasn’t clever enough to come up with this myself. But there’s a really interesting concept
in statistics called pythagorean theorem of statistics.” It says that you have two random, independent
variables, then you can add their variances. Variance is a measure of how spread out a
dataset is. For our purposes, the equation looks like
this: The variance of the observed, real life results equals the variance of skill plus
the variance of luck. Skill plus luck equals everything that happened. “So you think about how do we apply this
to sports, and we’ll use basketball as an example. So what do we know? We know the actual variance of win loss records
of all the professional sports teams right? Basketball teams. So that’s a known.” Over a season, some teams win about half of
their games, some do a lot better than that, some a lot worse. So if the variance is a measure of how spread
out those win-loss records are for the league, you can see that you have more variance in
basketball than hockey. The other part of the equation estimates what
the results would be in an all-luck world. “So if instead of playing every basketball
game, the teams just went out and flipped a coin, and whoever won the coin toss, and
they went back and took showers and went home.” The variance of luck varies from sport to
sport depending on how many games are in a season. More games mean lower variance of luck, just
like the more times you flip a coin, the closer your data gets to 50-50. “Now we have two out of the three pieces
of the equation, and what that allows us to do is then estimate the contribution of the
other distribution.” Basically what this asks is: how different
does the real world look from a world in which the winners are just chosen at random? He averaged the results of 5 seasons for each
sport, and that’s how he placed them on the continuum. If you were to look at just the playoffs rather
than the regular season, you might get a different result. According to one analysis, baseball playoffs are the worst
at ensuring the best team wins. Which raises the question of what we want
our sports to do. Do we want to measure skill as precisely as possible? Or do we just want to feel alive? “We’re there to enjoy the journey, right,
to have both the highs and lows, and having the highs and lows is kind of what makes it
engaging as a fan. I think that’s part of the whole human condition
that makes it really fun for us to watch.

100 thoughts on “Why underdogs do better in hockey than basketball

  1. Your view on hockey is bullshit. Parity and randomness are entirely different. Hockey is very physical, and scoring is so dependent on support from team members, that no one player can make a bad team good.

  2. Randomness yes that’s hockey but playing hockey being all is completely wrong that take much more skill then any other sport

  3. Some of these comments are missing the point. The analysis is investigating the correlation of skill based metrics to win probability and makes no argument about which sport requires the most skill on an individual level. Maybe the best way to think about it is to substitute 'luck' in this case for 'effort', something frequently referenced by hockey coaches and commentators. "The team that works harder wins" (of course being the more skillful team helps, but its not the end all be all in hockey). Its the very reason your coach hammered you with 1min/2min drills and a grinder is such a valuable role in the playoffs. Haven't you seen Miracle??

  4. 3:18 let's just take a moment to appreciate Sidney Crosby embarrassing and undressing Spezza behind the net. 😂

  5. I think that basketball is also the farthest out to the right because their pool of talent is comparatively smaller than the other sports. You basically have to be over 6 feet to play and probably over 6 foot 4 to be impactful

  6. I think luck is the wrong word. It oversimplifies it and the same is true for skill. Looking at my username this seems pretty biased but all my friends go play basketball I can play against. Sure I’ll lose but I can keep it close. Hockey, no one can play me and have a fair shot. Even if they know how to skate I will still beat them every time without them getting a point.

  7. Soccers takes no skill. All you need to know is how to kick and pass and run witch you learn as babies. Hockey you need to know how to shoot hard and skate good and hard and fast. Also you need to know how to hit and be big and strong.Football just throwing and hitting and all you need is a good coach and quarterback.Baseball takes very little skill.Just throwing running and hitting. And you can be lucky on the hits to it’s no hard.

  8. I played a lot of sports recreationally. Hands down, it has been the hardest to win a division championship in hockey over any other sport. So much can go wrong. Everyone has to play their part consistently. You need the all star, you need the relentless defense, you need the reliable goalie. Injuries can cripple your team. Everyone needs to skate well, pass well, and position well. Everyone is stingy as hell with goal scoring opportunities. Most games end up only having 2 to 4 goals. The list goes on and on. I just play sports for fun, but my god Hockey was tough.

  9. Hockey requires the most skill to play but the games are usually decided by refs, goalies and luck

  10. So are we overtly not going to mention NBA refs fixing matches and overprotecting stars and major markets?

  11. This isn’t that relevant but when people say black people cant swim, trust me it gets worse when they get on ice 😂

  12. Hockey is 100% skill. I played Hockey for 6 years

    I comes down to team chemistry and player mechanics

  13. Notice that this graph is also in order for how important teamplay is to the sport. In basketball all you need is a single superstar to be successful while on the other end of the spectrum in hockey it takes a complete game by the entire team to be successful.

  14. Put a hockey player on a basketball court. Put a basketball player on the ice. You already know what the results will be.

    I would argue that hockey is the ultimate combination of skill and physical prowess. You have a strong statistical possibility (in relation to a average height player) of making the NBA if you are incredibly tall, even if only slightly above average skill. Hockey does not have this element to anywhere near this extent, it relies much more on skill and training.

    Honestly, the formula he used to conclude this seems faulty to me. We probably need more precise definitions of skill and luck.

  15. I'd like to see how baseball has less luck then football, it depends on the angle of the swing and the type of pitch. Then soccer everyone is equally as athletic. Football has the greatest disparity of weight and power. I just don't see how football is luckier than baseball and soccer…

  16. There is no true existence of luck, just factors unaccounted for. Thats why hockey is ranked lower as there are so many other facets to take into consideration when strategizing, like a player's skating, stick handling, stamina, and shooting ability. A coach can never perfectly take into account every single iota of information of every player of every team they face especially when games have an average 2 days between.

  17. Hockey has goalies and is considered the luckiest of sports. Basketball does not. Hockey has the most interesting and wide variety of highlights. Basketball looks more of the same over and over when watching the highlights

  18. This isn’t “Luck” all it shows is that the salary cap has been really good at making teams balanced

  19. Something else that I find interesting that wasn't really addressed is how in Basketball you are basically always guaranteed offensive opportunities compared to say Hockey.

    In Basketball, after every successful field goal or turn over the ball immediately goes to the other team and they go into the opposite end for their chance to shoot. This isn't the case in Hockey where a highly coordinated, defensive team can essentially negate the offensive opportunities of the opposing team and confine them to the neutral zone.

    In Hockey you have to "earn" your offense by entering your opponents zone onside to generate your chances.

    This is a big part of why Basketball is so star oriented; because the most prolifically talented players are constantly being given offensive opportunities to score. If anything the rules have been adjusted over the course of the game specifically to cater to their skills by making defensive tactics restrictive and mitigating the capacity for defensive players to impede upon the ones attempting to score.

    In Hockey you can completely take out the most skilled players with just raw aggression and physicality. So less skilled, but more physical players are often able to have a larger impact on the pace and flow of the game.

    This was certainly the case with both the Lightning and the Leafs losing first round. And also an example as to why GS is able to predictably make it to the final year after year.

    I find that these two sports get contrasted the most when it comes to their respective styles of play.

  20. It does seem like the winner of the Presidents Trophy in Hockey loses in the playoffs more than other sports and there was the USA over the Russians in 84 Olympics but should be able to figure it out just by using playoff draws to see how many times a #1 seed did not win the tournament.

  21. While you do make an argument for sports such as hockey relying less on individual skill, you fail to notice the fact that the combined skill of the team is what plays the most important role in those games. How the players coordinate with each other and how they position themselves on the arena are aspects of team skill that Vox isn't considering. Hockey isn't just about who can shoot the most accurately, but about how all the members of the team can support each other to make it to the top. From what I can see from this video, you guys really are failing to consider the important type of skill that team games require: the combined skill of the team, not the individual.

  22. When you take a shot at the net in hockey, several things can happen that don't happen in basketball. For example: the goal tender doesn't see the puck, the puck gets deflected off a defender and goes in, takes a funny bounce and goes in, etc. In basketball the ball isn't much smaller than the hoop so just tossing it in the direction of the net is unlikely to score. When a puck is flying and ricochetting around strange things can happen. Comparing basketball to hockey is like comparing apples and oranges.

  23. yes put someone who never been on skates …. skates on and send him on ice I guess he will be doing fine …. 😀 because all u need is luck

  24. Well, OK..But other factors are not being considered. The premise is that an 'underdog' may do better in hockey. I believe that once a team has reached the playoffs in hockey, THER ARE no underdogs, it's a question of who;s tired, who's healthy,who has fresh legs, since the regular season takes an enormous toll on the body. Which explains why the Golden Knights in their first year as a franchise can make the final. They arrived as an intact, more or less healthy unit, without any touted stars at all, but with players who had a balanced skill set. And why Boston will probably win the Cup this year. Also, these 'lucky bounces' I assert happen much less often than is obvious. Since the puck must cross the opponent's blue line before any other player, these bounces usually occur when the entire offensive team has arrived in the zone, and a good solid defensive team like the Bruins will block shots and eliminate caroms and rebounds more than other teams, as well as impede players from crossing the neutral zone. Has that been statistically analyzed?

  25. I'm not a sports analyst and may be unaware of all the thinking behind this analysis, but if I were analyzing the effect of skill I'd collect putative measures of skill and use some form of regression analysis to estimate how well they predict success. You then have a measure of skill, and error is defined as the difference between predicted success in each case and the actual success. Here, no attempt has been made to define skill, and error is defined theoretically. Skill is assumed to be what's left over after luck is accounted for. But what is this "skill"? It is assumed that hockey, baseball, basketball etc. all are measures of the same skill. However, this is obviously not true. Skating ability is an important aspect of skill in hockey, for example, but plays no role in the other sports. So what is this universal skill they all share? And factors other than skill may also affect results non-randomly — field dimensions in baseball, for example.

    An important point has been neglected here, too, one that seems to me to undermine the conclusions in the video. The video asserts that the best hockey players play only a small portion of the game. However, the goaltender is often one of the best players, and he or she usually plays the whole game. Goaltenders are often responsible for their teams winning games in which they were outplayed. In the recent IIHF Men's World Championship final Canada outshot Finland 44-22, but the Finnish goaltender, Kevin Lahtinen, stopped all but one of the 44 shots, and the Finns won 3-1. Given the importance of that one position, why is it assumed that hockey lacks the stability due to important players playing a large part of the game?

    Well, I could be thinking entirely wrongheadedly about this; if I am please let me know. I don't, though, see how you can estimate skill from a theoretical estimate of luck.

  26. I'm sad they didn't include golf as the "all skill" sport but they put chess… which is not an active sport

  27. Tbh I feel that football (soccer) should be closer or above the nba for skill

  28. My question is how many basketball players are there that can play hockey compared to how many hockey players are there that can play basketball? 🤨

  29. Yea but basketball refs suck cause fouls can be called on anything, also allot of games are decided by one or two shots in a game where there were 40 fouls and 20 shouldve been fouls, yall gotta change that

  30. I love the fact that when they showed Americans and soccer they showed the WOMENS team lol probably cause they win every world cup but the mens team sucks😂

  31. I don’t understand how running across a court and throwing a ball takes more skill than having to learn how to skate, shoot, and communicate in a team based game🤨

  32. This is an interesting video and concept. I'm not entirely convinced that we can attribute the difference between observed outcomes and measured skill as being only luck. Luck might be part of it but not all of it. I would add that there are variances in the ability of an individual/team to be able to perform at full skill capacity, and perhaps those variances are greater in some sports than others. Such variances could include injuries, environmental conditions (ie. wind direction in soccer), psychological factors (ie. differing psychology associated with home vs. away games), and others. So with hockey, the difference between observed outcomes and measured skill might not be attributed to only luck but also to difficulties of teams being able to consistently perform at peak level. To put in another way, there may be more variables at work in hockey than in other sports that would prevent players and teams from consistently performing at peak level.

  33. So pretty much bet underdog because they have a better chance of winning compared to basketball where the favorite has a better overall chance of winning

  34. I think the NHL just has the tightest salary cap which increases the parity in skill between teams.

    This study measures the luck in each league, but not the sport inherently

  35. Wouldnt it be the other way around? Since b-ball has more scoring opportunities wouldn’t there be more luck for you to score

  36. A precis of my earlier long post:

    1. You assume that anything that's not luck is skill. However, variables like field dimensions in baseball can have systematic (that is, non-lucky) effects on results without being skills.
    2. Goaltenders usually play the entire game in hockey, and often a goaltender's performance will win the game for their team even though the team was outplayed in general.
    3. The conventional approach to this issue would be to estimate the effects of skill first, predict results, then calculate error (i. e. luck) as the difference between predicted and actual results.

  37. Im here after the blues and the raptors won the championship, both teams fired their coach, blues bring in a new goalie and win their first championship ever, raptors bring in kawhi and win their first championship ever, sports arent random their scripted, prove me wrong.

  38. In other words , hockey has the most skill in their players because they are so tightly knit to each other in skill compared all other sports.

  39. This makes sense, because in hockey there are so many X factors that go into the game. Think of Patrick Maroon, scoring that OT goal. Or the fact the Bruins got to the Finals because of their young players, all season long they were seen as a 1 Line team. Or look at goalies, Binnington coming up for the Blues. This guy was supposed to be a career minor leaguer. Goalies can be the equalizer in an unbalanced matchup, just ask a Habs fan who knows Carey Price can bail them out.

  40. I disagree with these results I feel that skill is a major part of hockey as compared to luck if you put a OHL team against a NHL team the OHL team would get destroyed if luck were a large part of the game then the game would be up to a matter of luck no

  41. Basketball is luck
    When you shoot a ball you can’t force it into the net. In hockey you actually have skill.
    I’m sure basketball players can’t skate as fast as Connor McDavid. They can’t deke like Pavel Datsyuk. This video proves nothing.

  42. This science is bunk. If anything having a more narrow margin of win loss records across a league means that there are more skilled players in the league as a whole, not that the outcomes are random

  43. My theory as to why Hockey is the "luckiest" of sports: A mediocre team can run deep into the playoffs if they find themselves with a "hot" goalie. I.e.: the guy who blocks every shot and gives his team a 1-0 win despite being out-shot 14 to 2 in just the 1st period.

  44. I wonder what percentage of luck to skill Motorsport is, like F1, NASCAR, Indy car, rally and others

  45. Basketball is too predictable. Two superstars , on the same team will win 80 to 95% of all their games. They should restrict the best 3 basketball players of each team, to only 25 minutes per game.

  46. Soccer is a sport of alot of skill and the body of people playing soccer is much larger then most if not every sport

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